Monday, 4 March 2013

Booked up

Girl Reading - Picasso

There is, I hear, a thing called ‘extreme reading’. From what I can tell, this involves being photographed wielding a book in an odd – preferably uncomfortable – location. Frankly I can think of no better way to put me off my flow, but kids seem to like it.

It’s World Book Day on Thursday, and I was thinking about what it is that stirs children to read. I mean properly to soak up a book rather than simply to ‘bark at print’ like small dalek hounds.

Oscar Wilde said: “It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” Oh, in that single line, what light he shines on the role played by reading for pleasure in shaping who we become. And, oof, the parental responsibility that that kind of implies.

The books young children read when they don’t have to, and even when they do, must be the books they actually love. Not the ones we think they ought to. In our household, these are the top ten choices of a soon to be two-year-old called Elodie.

Arthur’s Dreamboat by Polly Dunbar
An unbelievably lovely book set in the hazy area between a child’s (Arthur’s) imagination and reality. My daughter and I are essentially Arthur’s groupies: we have seen the puppet show based on the book twice ( and play the CD of the show almost daily. But the book, the book is what we look at night after night, always noticing something new to talk about.

Bunny Bunny Catkin by Cathy MacLennan
A joyous description of Spring bursting into life, which demands to be chanted aloud. In the beautiful illustrations and bouncing rhythm there are echoes of the author’s Zimbabwean childhood. Cute but in a brilliant way. And surreal too: ‘kitten trees’?

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
A girl and her toy monkey bound through this exuberant book, which uses simple repetition and fabulous illustrations to carry you along with them. An excellent romp.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
We’ve been reading this wonderfully soporific tale several times a week since my daughter was six months old. It is a simple and rhythmic goodnight to all the things inside a ‘great green room’. Somehow comforting and magical at the same time.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems
This one puts your child in charge, giving her a chance to yell ‘NO!’ Proper good fun to be had trying to stop a pigeon from taking a bus for a joyride, from an Emmy Award-winning writer and animator for Sesame Street. (So you know it’s got to be good.)

Maisy Goes to Nursery by Lucy Cousins
We read this ALL the time. Every Maisy book goes down well but this one, which helped my daughter when she started nursery, is the favourite. Simple, sweet and reassuring.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This caterpillar is a monster industry and needs no introduction from me.

Elephant Wellyphant by Nick Sharratt
A bonkers parade of fruit Jellyphants, rude Smelliphants, not on your Nelliphants and others, with tabs and flaps to manhandle. You get the picture. It’s great fun.

Penguin by Polly Dunbar
Penguin doesn’t speak. Ben tries everything, but Penguin says NOTHING. A charming and funny book about a boy and a penguin, guest-starring a lion who is bitten on the nose. Beautifully illustrated.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Apparently this one is controversial, but as far as my daughter is concerned it’s just a terrific, imaginative and funny read. The controversy comes from the fact that the little boy ‘Mickey’ is fully naked in some of the illustrations. But, really, so what? I will concede that this book is odd, though – much odder than I remember finding it when I was a child. An intriguing non-scary choice for children who might be too young for Sendak’s great classic, Where the Wild Things Are.

Happy World Book Day. And Happy birthday darling Elodie!


  1. The ones I know from your list are great choices so I'll have to check out the others! Thanks.